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Travel: Postcard from Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral remains closed with the restoration following the fire of 2019 behind schedule.
Notre-Dame Cathedral remains closed with the restoration following the fire of 2019 behind schedule. | Dennis Lennox

Like most cities in the Old World, Paris is best discovered by foot.

Between all the museums, grand parks and iconic landmarks to say nothing of the omnipresent sidewalk cafes, it’s easy to walk 10 miles on any given day without much effort.

I avoid the overpriced hotels around the touristy Champs-Elysees like the plague and instead stay by Place de la Republique.

While gritty compared to the areas in and around Avenue George V or Place Vendome, the neighborhood surrounding the square has rapidly gentrified since my first stay at the Renaissance Republique, a Marriott-flagged hotel, in 2016. The biggest appeal is the authentic experience one gets when staying here. In other words, there are real Parisians who actually live around the hotel.

Saint-Merry, a flamboyant Gothic church in Paris.
Saint-Merry, a flamboyant Gothic church in Paris. | Dennis Lennox

Beyond the neighborhood, everything you will do and see is within walking distance. If you want to see the Eiffel Tower — that’s probably the farthest away — the walk is a leisurely 3-and-a-half miles. Along the way are quite a few churches.

Whether you blame the tumult of the French Revolution, the Second Empire transformation of the cityscape by Baron Haussmann, several wars or the codified secularism of the French state, the churches of Paris don’t receive much attention. Many are outright ignored.

Of course, there’s Notre-Dame, but the famed Gothic cathedral remains closed after the 2019 fire with the ongoing restoration now behind schedule.

Then there’s Sainte-Chapelle. While the two-level layout is unique and the collection of medieval stained-glass is magnificent, the chapel is no longer consecrated for divine worship. That puts it more in the category of a museum.

The Renaissance rood screen inside the Eglise or Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris.
The Renaissance rood screen inside the Eglise or Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris. | Dennis Lennox

Of the churches that are still churches, the most notable examples are the recently restored Saint-Germain-des-Pres (look for the massive Romanesque tower), Saint-Etienne-du-Mont with its rare Renaissance rood screen and Saint-Merry, a flamboyant Gothic church in the precincts of the architecturally hideous Pompidou Center. Honorable mentions go to Saint-Eustache, a Renaissance church built in Gothic form with neoclassical details, and Saint-Sulpice, which was originally designed with a west front inspired by St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The collection of the City Museum of Architecture and Heritage includes full-scale plaster casts of centuries-old churches and cathedrals from across France.
The collection of the City Museum of Architecture and Heritage includes full-scale plaster casts of centuries-old churches and cathedrals from across France. | Dennis Lennox

Two related museums to visit are the Cluny Museum and City Museum of Architecture and Heritage. The Cluny’s collection includes medieval religious art while the City is notable for full-scale plaster casts of facades and other architectural details from centuries-old churches and cathedrals across France.

If you go

Don’t even think about visiting Paris around the Olympics and Paralympics.

While the games officially run from late July through early September, the French capital will be busy all summer. The best time to go is from right now until early April. Alternatively, look at December when Notre-Dame is supposed to finally reopen.

Recommending somewhere to eat in Paris is no easy task. This is Paris after all. With that said, my go-to restaurants include Cafe Saint-Regis near Notre-Dame, Bistrot Instinct in the Marais neighborhood and Habile on Rue de Lancry by the Renaissance Republique.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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